Join Date: Dec 2004
More comments on headsman's swords
Thanks, Jim, for the useful info on the topic.
Yes, it's true that the vast majority of specimens seen in collections and on the marketplace appear to be German or Moravian. However, I have encountered two or three Polish examples, of the same general form, as well. One element of the design of these devices, not mentioned in previous posts, is the CROSS SECTION of the blades. Invariably, it is lenticular and not lozenge-shaped as is the case with many blades intended for combat. A few have a short fuller at the forte, undoubtedly to move the point of balance out towards the tip.
Recently, I noticed in a dealer's online catalog (he's in TX, I recall) a HUNGARIAN example of a headsman's sword. Same blade type as the Germanic style described previously, but with a one hand grip patterned after an early hussar saber. Without seeing it in person, I can't rule out the possibility of it being a composite, since I have seen no similar example elsewhere.
A friend in Israel recently sent me a rather fuzzy photo of what is purportedly a French beheading sword, which he saw in a museum in Paris. It does have a lozenge-shaped section with a clearly defined central ridge, and an unusual blade profile which is wasp waisted at the forte, widens somewhat from there on out, and then comes to a point. Neither of us have encountered another one like it in any other collection, although the sword was de rigueur for capital sentences (for the aristocracy) in France until the Revolution and there ought to be more such blades in existence.
Ann Boleyn did indeed request to die by the sword; being of noble birth, she felt entitled to it and a headsman was brought over from France to do the job. The French had quite a reputation for proficiency in this grim task.
In both France and the Germanic countries, the headsman's sword was employed with a horizontal cutting stroke.